Dining alone. Something that is often avoided, at all costs. Taboo even. In Australia, the concept is so foreign. However in parts of Asia, it is part of everyday life, where convenience reigns supreme. Japan is an example of this. From the land of tiny restaurants where the seat count is less the number of fingers on two hands, dining solo is no biggie in Japan.
In the past few years, food has slowly crept up the list of priorities every time I travel. Japan is a food lover’s paradise. While the local stuff is incredible, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of the two Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Roppongi Hills. It’s a more casual offering than the three-starred Joël Robuchon Restaurant.
Being the last of my friends to fly out of Japan, I had a few hours to kill before my flight and a couple of hundred yen left…so why not?
At the start of the service, the kitchen is dormant. There is activity but it’s fairly muted, as though the cooks are bracing for the oncoming Golden Week onslaught. The bums-filling-seats progression is rapid, but the crescendo amongst staff adjusts with aplomb.
Watching the service is fascinating. The staff who directly deal with customers – pouring drinks, introducing dishes and engaging in conversation – are darting from one group to another. The head chef paces back and forth near the grill and inspects the dishes, wiping down the plates before they head out of the kitchen.
Each line cook is so intently focused on their task at hand. One cook carefully sautés the crab meat used in the appetiser, while another puts the finishing touches on the same dish, expertly dotting the plate with the lobster emulsion. It’s rhythmic, controlled and a testament to Japanese efficiency. And yet I couldn’t see any female chefs in the kitchen; you could feel the testosterone pumping through that place.
Despite being a solo diner, you’re never bored. That is the beauty of an open kitchen with counter seats. I even see one of the cooks get scolded by the head chef. A pan is flung into the sink and instructions are barked at the offending cook, while the other staff continue with their work.
Everything is on-point with the experience. The front of house knows who I am before I can even say my name and the time of the booking. The water is always filled, cutlery and plates cleared away at the perfect moment, and smiles are all around as the customer is always the most focal point.
I see one chef directly in front of my seat, plating up the first dish – white asparagus light mousse and snow crab with crustacean reduction and oil. It was absolutely stunning – almost too pretty to eat. The pastry is delicate and flaky and the flavours of the ocean clearly resonating through the reduction. An absolute cracker.
The attention to detail on the next dish – sauteed squid stuffed with chorizo and red bell pepper served with spinach fondue – was also out-of-this-world. At this point, I was already in some sort of euphoric state.
I hadn’t had any wagyu beef during my Japan trip, so it brilliant to be able to squeeze it into the itinerary, albeit with a very welcome French twist. The mash was gloriously rich and the beef was absolutely perfect. The salad accompaniment provided a sharp hit to the palate so the diner wasn’t overwhelmed by the richness of the dish.
Robuchon in Tokyo is incredible value for lunch. Choose the three-course meal here and you’ll only fork out just over AUD$50. For two-Michelin star dining with exception service, it is a steal. From start to finish, it was as though you are watching the perfect theatre production, with immaculate service and incredible food to boot. If only I could eat like this everyday.